Date: Summer 2005
Author: Jin Moon
Publication: ASCAP Playback – Radar Report
Headline: TWINS PEAK
TEGAN AND SARA's new album is the Canadian duo's best yet
To many, Tegan and Sara Quin may be known as a cutesy Canadian twin pop outfit, but these two maple leaves grew up in a household that loved artists as diverse as Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and Sinead O'Connor. Sara was even very close to being named Page after Jimmy Page.
As they matured into their teens, Tegan and Sara were inspired by bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Violent Femmes, Dinosaur Jr, Teenage Fanclub and the burgeoning punk rock scene in their native Calgary, Alberta. The duo thought that playing acoustic guitar was just as heavy as playing electric, but because they released their first album around the time of Lilith Fair, they often got categorized as an acoustic folk duo. Even though they were mostly acoustic, they thought they were trying to emulate the indie bands that influenced them so much as teens.
Even so, there are not many modern acts who can boast about getting the attention of songwriting legend Neil Young. Their first record, This Business of Art, made its way into the hands of Young's manager, Elliott Roberts. Soon, Roberts and Young's label, Vapor Records, offered them a deal. Now on their fourth studio album, So Jealous, Tegan and Sara have made one of their most cohesive and mature albums to date.
PLAYBACK: Tell me about how So Jealous came together.
TEGAN: When Sara and I were in the middle of our last record, If It Was You, Sara moved to Montreal. Mainly we just wrote for about six months, and we sent music and back and forth to let each other know what we were doing.
I was home for Christmas when Sara played the songs "So Jealous" and "Walking with a Ghost" for me. She had found the mini air organ that you hear in "So Jealous" and "We Didn't Do It" in an alley behind her apartment and dragged it inside. I think the inspiration for the record really came from hearing Sara's songs. I heard a very different Sara than I'd heard on the previous records. It was really cool that she was really going outside of where she'd been.
Sara was dealing with starting a new life. We've made friends together our whole lives, and being twins, we've always sort of had the same stuff. So for Sara moving to Montreal encouraged her independent side, and she had to deal with all the fear and the insecurity that comes with all of that. I think the record has a lot of layers and a lot of stuff that people can relate to besides love. But the major themes are heartbreak, love and insecurity.
PLAYBACK: How did her moving away affect you and your songwriting?
TEGAN: It was along the same lines for me. It was kind of exciting and scary. I was used to playing ideas and partial songs to Sara. But this time, I had to send these complete songs and ideas to her. It was liberating because I was doing it all on my own. At the same time, I'd gotten very used to 23 years of gauging who I was and what I was against Sara.
PLAYBACK: As a songwriter, do you find that it's easier to write lyrics first then compose the music or vice versa?
TEGAN: I get into a cycle where I'll write the guitar and melody lines first, and then I'll write lyrics. Months will pass, and I won't write anything. Then something will pop into my head, and I'll write a few things down. Then I'll be inspired to put music to it.
PLAYBACK: Does Sara come in and help write the songs?
PLAYBACK: So songwriting is pretty separate in the band?
TEGAN: Completely. Basically at that point, I would send the songs to Sara. She'd send back notes or thoughts on it — things she liked and didn't like. I would make the alterations. And then we get together for pre-production. Then Sara starts playing those parts, but only to help the band hear the complete song. When we get to the studio, it's often ourselves singing on our own songs.
PLAYBACK: How does that translate into a live show?
TEGAN: That's what makes our record and live show so different. On a song like "Where Does the Good Go," I sing the lead and majority of the background vocals. But live, Sara sings the backup vocals, obviously. It gives the song a whole different flavor.
PLAYBACK: How did "I Know I Know I Know" get written?
TEGAN: I've been in a relationship for nearly five years now and my partner travels a little bit. I always use it as sort of an inspiration when she leaves, even though we're completely happy and fine and nothing in our lives is really all that dramatic. I think that song was mainly just about the idea that we take for granted our relationships and we take for granted our lives. You're always sort of on the edge of life when everything could end. Obviously not everyone feels that way, but certainly for me, I feel like nothing lasts forever. I'd like everything to last forever, but it doesn't necessarily. So I always feel like I'm on guard, and I'm always on edge. That song is sort of like a reminder to be caught up in the moment and a reminder that we are right next to each other and feel very different.
Sara was like a huge inspiration for me on this record. Because she picked up and left after a four-year relationship and moved to a city where they don't speak English — on the other side of the world practically, far away from my family. Those are all things I would never do.
PLAYBACK: You have played with greats like The Pretenders and Neil Young. Does meeting such big names make you think about your careers differently?
TEGAN: Oh yeah. Neil Young and The Pretenders had a massive influence on how we are living now. One of the first things I talked to them about was giving interviews — like it doesn't matter how stupid or how ridiculous the journalists' questions are. They don't print their questions, they print your answers. We had just starting doing press, and I was like, "Okay, always give a good answer no matter how idiotic the question is."
PLAYBACK: How do you think you have grown as a songwriter?
TEGAN: I think we've just grown as people. Every year we learn more and more about ourselves, our lives and the world, and that reflects in our songs. The basic structure and the idea of how we write is fairly close to where we were at the beginning of our writing careers. But I think we're better guitar players — we're more confident and more apt to explore and be experimental.
PLAYBACK: What do you see in the future for Tegan and Sara?
TEGAN: We throw around a lot of ideas. We're talking about doing one record, but doing Sara's record in her city and my record in my city with completely different bands and completely different producers, but then putting out a second disc with all of the demos, which would significantly reflect influences in our writing and recording abilities.
PLAYBACK: After you finish your tour, what do you plan on doing?
TEGAN: I know Sara's thinking about relocating to a different country for a few months just to write, hang out, tour around and travel and see the world through different eyes without dragging along a band with her. For me, I'm looking to buy a house, and I'm much more grounded. I don't really want to travel that much. I want my bed.
I will most likely continue to write. We're going to release a DVD in the fall so I'm going to start focusing on that. I know lots of musicians and lots of artists and have kind of been pushing around the idea of collaborating. I'm sure I'll come up with some way to waste six months.